ATLANTA (CBS Atlanta)– Doctors made a medical breakthrough after revealing a woman gave birth to a healthy baby boy using frozen ovary tissue from her childhood. Now scientists are wondering if the same can be done using frozen testicle tissue.
A procedure using a transplant from a woman’s own frozen ovarian tissue led to the birth of a healthy baby boy in November 2014. The 27-year-old woman had her ovary removed when she was just 13 years old before undergoing treatment for sickle cell anemia. Doctors froze tissue fragments from the removed ovary, she had not started having periods at the time.
Researchers and doctors consider the procedure a milestone that will likely help other sick children who lose fertility through treatment, but can the same be done using testicle tissue?
Doctors recommend that post-puberty males freeze their sperm before undergoing chemo or harsh radiation treatment, as reported by Fusion. This sperm can be used when the patient is ready for a child by using artificial insemination or in vitro. But for males who haven’t gone through puberty, the lack of sperm production leads to no proven ways of fertility preservation.
“It’s the lowest hanging fruit in the world of fertility preservation,” Paul Turek, founder of The Turek Clinic, told Fusion.
Kyle Orwig, a leader of the Fertility Preservation Program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, sees this as an issue. Many boys and early teens have to go through radiation treatment or chemo, leading to fertility issues later in life. Scientists want to solve this problem.
Though still in the early stages of research, scientists have an idea of how to do it. By preserving and freezing the stem cells from the testes, which males are born with, the isolated cells may be able to used to produce sperm. The procedure would likely involve removing a patient’s testicle prior to treatment, freezing the tissue then using it a later point with the possibility of sperm production.
Orwig says the procedure has already been successfully tested on monkeys.
Turek tells Fusion he is exploring ways to tackle male infertility without involving the testicle. His team is currently exploring a device that mimics the testicle to produce sperm from stem cells from other organs.
“We are trying to recreate the entire environment of the testicle,” Turek told Fusion. “Including the major cell types and their architectural arrangement in tubes, to show the stem cells that ‘this is the way to go forward’ and become sperm. Thereby growing sperm outside of the body.”
The end goal for both the frozen testicle procedure and the mimic procedure is to help young survivors have children later in life. The treatment could also lead to breakthrough fertility solutions for adult men suffering from permanent injuries to their testicles.